The Coast Guard's newest fast-response cutter is the first to carry the name of one of this generation of warfighters, sending a strong signal to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans across the fleet that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
The fast-response cutter Nathan Bruckenthal was commissioned in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday. The 154-foot vessel is named for Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, the first Coast Guardsman to be killed in action since the Vietnam War.
The cutter brings a host of capabilities to the fleet, said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, enabling the crew to operate further from shore in extreme weather conditions. Having it named for Bruckenthal only adds to its strength, he added.
"When your namesake is tied to a hero of this millennium, that's a first," Schultz said. "I think that really raises the bar ... and I have every confidence this crew is going to get out there and crush it."
Ric Bruckenthal said he is moved to see the crew so inspired by his son's story. Even the saddest part of Bruckenthal's story, his death, served a purpose, his father said, because he could have saved countless lives by alerting others to the threat.
Bruckenthal and two sailors died April 24, 2004, while attempting to board a boat they wanted to inspect in the North Arabian Gulf. When the six-person crew from the coastal-patrol boat Firebolt pulled up alongside, a suicide bomber on board the suspect boat detonated an explosive device.
The boarding team's actions helped alert nearby security forces to a coordinated attack, which helped prevent further loss of life. Bruckenthal was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with a combat valor device for his actions that day.
"I never thought it would happen in my lifetime, but I'm glad the Coast Guard was able to speed the process up and [make this] happen," said Marine Enforcement Chief Joe Ruggiero, who served with Bruckenthal for about two years, including on the day he was killed.
Bruckenthal was always cracking jokes and making his shipmates laugh with his impressions, Ruggiero said. He could lift his team up on even the worst days, and Ruggiero said he hopes the crew on this cutter makes time to have fun while carrying out their missions.
Lt. Bryan Kilcoin, the cutter's commanding officer, said that's a trait he definitely sees in his crew. They talk about Bruckenthal daily, he said, and have a healthy respect for both his ethos and sense of humor.
"There's not a night on the mess deck when there's not an uproar of some sort," he said. "But they trust one another and have each other's backs, and that's why a lot of us continue going to sea -- to see that crew camaraderie come together."
The cutter will complete its inspections before heading out to conduct search-and-rescue, law enforcement and other missions off the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas, Kilcoin said.
Because of its capabilities, it could also be called down to the Caribbean for drug-interdiction missions.
Bruckenthal 's sister, Noabeth, serves as the ship's sponsor, which means she and her family will keep close ties to the ship and its crew. She addressed the crew during the commissioning ceremony.
"He's with us here today in spirit -- with all of us," Noabeth Bruckenthal said. "And now, we are all friends; we are now all family -- because of this one person, this one man, this one kid from Long Island.
"On behalf of the Bruckenthal family, welcome," she added.
Noabeth Bruckenthal said her brother would be "over the moon" to see so many people turn out for the commissioning. She pledged to be there for the cutter's crew whether they're facing a challenge, celebrating a success or hosting a change of command.
"I will travel whenever they need me," she said. "... I'll come out and take the crew to dinner, buy them a beer, play some video games, and kick back and relax. It's really a wonderful bunch of men and women serving aboard this cutter, and I'm so proud of them."